published Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Dalton sacks public defender

The Dalton, Ga., public defender was fired from his position in City Court, but officials haven’t said why.

Josh Smith has been the public defender since 2006.

City Administrator Ty Ross said this week he was asked to tell Smith his contract was being terminated because City Judge Jim Wilbanks thought it would be unprofessional for him to do it.

Ross said he doesn’t know why Smith was fired.

Wilbanks didn’t return calls Friday seeking comment.

Smith said he wasn’t surprised by the decision because his caseload has been shrinking since the city cleaned house in September, firing former Judge Jerry Moncus and forcing court administrator David Hamil to resign.

“I thought it was coming because the amount of cases were slowing down,” Smith said Friday.

In March, Smith became involved with Moncus to help represent a woman who claims she was falsely charged by the court several years ago.

Smith and Moncus then filed for a hearing to clear the record for the woman and more than 1,800 other people charged with a probation violation that doesn’t exist in state or city law.

So far, a hearing hasn’t been scheduled.

“The more we investigate this other issue, the fewer cases I was assigned,” Smith said.

Smith challenged the way his contract was terminated. The contract, an agreement between Smith and the city, calls for 30 days’ notice of termination.

Ross said Thursday he was sending the termination notification to Smith.

Smith also did business with the city, collecting forfeited bonds through his company, LST Recovery Group Inc. That contract was terminated in September when Moncus was fired.

LST is a spinoff from a collection agency Moncus owns, but that company didn’t do business with the city.

Mayor David Pennington and council members said last fall their decision to fire Moncus was based on philosophical differences within the court and a possible conflict of interest with Moncus.

But Moncus claimed the decision was political and could have been related to the fees that LST was collecting from the bonding companies.

Pennington said Friday the decision to let Smith go came from the court and not the City Council.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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